Uber marketer: The people who complain most about your brand are probably fraudsters

-R: AIA’s Paul Groves, Marriott’s Peggy Roe, Infiniti’s Alastair Bullock, Sam Gellman of Uber, Cathay Pacific’s Toby Smith

-R: AIA’s Paul Groves, Marriott’s Peggy Roe, Infiniti’s Alastair Bullock, Sam Gellman of Uber, Cathay Pacific’s Toby Smith

The head of international expansion at taxi booking app Uber has claimed the people who complain most about a brand are the ones who are likely to be trying to cheat it, so brand owners should learn to take trolling in their stride.

In answer to a question from the audience at a panel debate in Hong Kong last night about the credibility brands should give social media feedback, Uber’s Sam Gellman said that “people who complain the most are the fraudsters.”

“Some customers tell us that they’ll never ride again with Uber, and by the time you’ve taken the time to respond to them, they’ve taken another trip using our service,” he said.

Gellman noted that the company expends a lot of its resources on mining user behaviour and finds that “the guys who commit fraud or game the system complain the most.”

“If you notice that they’re not actually using your product, be wary. I’m not saying ignore them. But data is key,” he said, adding that for every million taxi trips made using Uber in Hong Kong, there are around 15 complaints about the service.

Another panelist was Alastair Bullock, senior manager at Infiniti RedBull Racing. The former WWF and Dow Jones communications director called on marketers to “be strong” in the face of negative comments in social media.

“There are people who attack us for our CSR initiatives,” he said. “But as a brand you’ve got to be strong and ignore the people who hate the brand, and the people who say you did this just for PR.”

“Don’t listen to the trolls and believe that what you’re doing is right,” he said.

Also on the panel was Paul Groves, the group CMO of AIA, the insurance company which has Malaysia Airlines as a client.

He said that the company struggled with the dilemma of whether it should have publicised that AIA compensated those affected by the MH17 and MH370 disasters, even though the firm was not obliged to pay out for a missing plane and one downed by a missile.

“We were talking to other insurers, asking them if they thought we should pay. Our guys said we should put a big story out about the fact that we would. But we didn’t. We are humble about what to say and when to say it,” he said.

“We struggle a lot with – not CSR [corporate social responsibility] – but the burning desire to say we’re doing a good social thing,” he said.

“It’s the insight that’s lacking. We get lots of information from customers. But it is listening to own people and making sense of that that is an untapped resource,” Grove said.

Toby Smith, general manager of product at Cathay Pacific, said that the airline, which carries 30 million passengers a year, gets its “fair share of trolls” and often relies on the people who love the brand to defend it.

“Our best defence comes from our frequent fliers. They don’t exaggerate,” he said.

“You have to have a thick skin. If you are a sensitive person, then customer service is a very tough place to work,” he said.

Robin Hicks 


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